The benefit of second thoughts in an instantaneous world

The benefit of second thoughts in an instantaneous world

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We rarely get anything completely right the first time. I’m not just saying that because I’m a second child. I idolize my older brother. In fact, I’m fond of my younger brother, too.

We need practice. When we’re young, we take a few steps and we fall hard. Fortunately, at that age, we’re practically made of plastic, bouncing off the nearby floor as if it were a downy soft trampoline. As we age, the floor gets harder.

With each figurative step through life, we make adjustments, learn on the fly and revise our approach.

We recently visited a few colleges with our daughter. The cheerful school representatives were selling us on the idea that their classes were great, the students they admitted were incredible and the opportunities were extraordinary.

One theme that stuck out, especially after several schools presented it as if unique, was that they made students uncomfortable. They wanted to challenge their undergraduates to reach outside their comfort zone. They wanted eager students to fall down and, in so doing, learn to get back up.

This idea of falling is part of the charm of enjoying the ride. We listen to elementary school music concerts in which someone plays a few notes after the conductors arms have stopped moving, we nod encouragement when the young person on stage says a few of the wrong words in a speech, and we suggest to our kids that they’ll spell “because” correctly the next time.

The country may have forgotten that our strutting president, who has been in the public eye for so long, has never been a politician. He’s definitely outside his comfort zone, acting like a president when he hasn’t even been, to borrow a phrase from him, “elected dog catcher.”

People pounce on every mistake, every breach of protocol and every misstatement, ready to tar and feather him for saying or writing something that probably would play better on a fictionalized reality TV show than it does for him as president of the United States.

He’s so eager to be a part of every story and to expand his brand — something he’s been doing reflexively for years — that he doesn’t appear to take the time to recognize or
acknowledge mistakes.

I know how it is to say, “my bad.” Many people consider admitting a mistake some sign of weakness, instead of a reflection of strength and self awareness. Erring, as the saying goes, is human.

You don’t get many free passes when you’re president. You either learn or you don’t, you either unify or you don’t, and you either say or do the right thing, or you don’t.

Still, it seems to me that he might endear himself to more people, and win higher ratings, if he took a few extra seconds to think about whether he might write or respond to something in a different way. He doesn’t seem burdened by the kind of reflection that allows for his own second thoughts to enter the discussion.

People are eager to rip him apart each day, but let’s remember something his handlers and cohorts seem to embrace regularly: He gets angry when people point out that he’s fallen down. Maybe he can meet us halfway, by learning to take an extra second to edit his thoughts or speech. When he takes a few steps without falling, we can breathe a sigh of relief, the way parents do when they’re no longer bending over to protect their children from bumping their heads on nearby coffee tables.